Dips are a basic exercise. Many trainees first did dips in high school as part of a program of pullups, pushups, dips, situps and sprints. Some consider the dip part of ‘natural’ training, meaning that it uses bodyweight as resistance. For others the dip and pushup are exercises that lead to the bench press. The dip is also a key movement for gymnasts. As millions of television viewers of the Olympic gymnastics competitions can attest, gymnasts have very muscular delts, pecs, triceps, biceps and lats.
The dip has found its way into many trainees’ programs. It’s often included in chest routines, as it involves the pecs. The movement trains the pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps and serratus anterior.
The traditional dip is performed on parallel bars, and gymnastic-style parallel bars obviously permit only one grip width for all trainees. Some gyms have V-shaped bars (as opposed to parallel bars). The V-shape allows for a change in the emphasis. The narrow part of the V lets you increase the emphasis on your triceps and deltoids, and the wider part of the V lets you place more emphasis on your pecs. You can also use a moderate grip width on the V bars’similar to the grip width on the parallel bars’and strap additional weight around your waist. Some use the dip with bodyweight as a pumping exercise at the end of a chest workout. Many trainees use 35 to 50 pounds for sets of 10, and I once saw Bertil Fox perform dips with 200 pounds for reps. Zabo Koszewski, the manager of World Gym in Venice, California, has performed dips with 200, but the most astonishing dip performance belongs to powerlifter and bodybuilder Marvin Eder, who did dips with 400 pounds at a bodyweight of only 198.
Like any exercise, dips can produce injuries. Trainees who have injured the acromioclavicular joint usually have pain when they perform dips. The AC joint, as it’s called, is on the top and front of the shoulder. The C stands for clavicle, or collarbone. The A stands for acromion, which is the bony extension of the shoulder blade. The acromion meets the clavicle and forms the AC joint, which is similar to two blunt ends of bone meeting each other. When injured, it often separates slightly. It may hurt for only a few weeks, but the joint is never tight or snug again.
Dipping stresses the AC joint at the top of the exercise when the elbows are straight and the arms are down along the side of the body. In that position the force is being driven up into the shoulder and can produce a separationlike effect on the AC joint. Trainees who experience pain in the region of the AC joint should stop performing dips.
The sternum, or breastbone, serves as a broad origin for the pectoralis major. Because the bottom position of a dip places a great stretch on the pecs, tendinitis can occur along the sternum in the center of the chest. If you develop that pain during dips, take a few weeks off from the exercise. Reintroduce it to your workout, but only do quarter dips for a few weeks. Progress to half dips and then three-quarter dips for a few weeks each. You should be ready to perform full dips after that. When you first start doing full dips, do only one set. Allow your muscle-tendon and tendon-bone interface to adapt. Once you have performed one set of full dips pain free for a few weeks, add a second set. Every two to three weeks add another set until you reach the desired number of sets. Remember, train hard, but train smart.
Editor’s note: Visit www.softtissuecenter.com for reprints of Horrigan’s past Sportsmedicine columns that have appeared in IRON MAN. You can order the book Strength, Conditioning and Injury Prevention for Hockey by Joseph Horrigan, D.C., and E.J. ‘Doc’ Kreis, D.A., from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or at www.home-gym.com.